Staring Into The Same Stars As Thoreau Did Filled Me With Awe


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Walden Pond

June 15, ’77

Richard and I did Boston. We stumbled upon a youth center where we both got a shower. We washed our clothes at a laundrymat and then, in late afternoon, we left town. Thoreau’s Walden Pond was next up for us. By the time we had reached there, the park had closed. The entrance was in a secluded area, and since nobody was around, we decided to go inside anyway. After some difficulty, we got our bikes past the locked gates.

The sun had already set when we walked our bikes along the pond. We stretched our sleeping bags out under a stand of pine trees that covered a hill overlooking the pond. We were off the main path, but still had a good view of the water. Actually, we were half way up a large hill overlooking the whole area. The highway was out of sight, and just over the hill on the other side of the pond from where we rolled out our sleeping bags. It was peaceful. We decided against the tents because we were lying on a pretty steep incline.

It had been cloudy all day, but the sky cleared just as we arrived at Walden. Laying on our sleeping bags, we hoped it would stay that way. We stayed awake into the evening, and when our conversation drifted into silence, under the scattering of stars that could barely be seen through the black outline of the scented pine trees above, I could feel myself getting emotional. Thoreau’s book, Walden, had been an inspiration for me. The book had made me feel good about my life, and looking up into the same stars that Thoreau must have stared into, filled me with an even more intense feeling of goodness.

Thoreau was something of a role model for me. He took a critical look at what it meant to be successful—success being measured by wealth, material goods, and status—and found it wanting. He then went to his cabin and bean field to live a life of simplicity. By rejecting the conventional notions of success, Thoreau legitimated universal life-affirming values while keeping the ideal of individualism fully intact and alive. He strove for economic self-sufficiency, and a “higher truth.” By immersing himself in the wellsprings of nature, he put himself in direct contact with the regenerative power of nature, and in turn, was filled with a sense of the renewal that made possible the development of a higher and richer knowledge. After a year at Walden Pond, Thoreau discovered a “new sense of himself and the world,” and, in the process, he left behind a kind of diary–Walden. In fact, I remember how envious I became when I read how he learned to cherish the “present condition of things” in the same way that two lovers might cherish their embrace of each other. I should be so lucky!

In the morning, a cloudy mist greeted us. The fog bank covered half of Walden Pond. After a moment’s silence, I turned to Richard and asked how his night had gone. “Not so good,” he replied, “too many mosquitoes. It was sweaty in my sleeping bag.” “Yeah,” I responded, “the mosquitoes were bad, but, all in all, I had a pretty good evening.” We hiked down the hill and managed to get our bikes back to the highway without being discovered. Then it was up the New Hampshire coastline, under clouds at first, but late in the morning the sun broke through making it a beautiful bicycle ride.

At the end of the day, we found a nice secluded area to camp. But before we camped, we went for some beer. Sitting high up on a rocky incline, overlooking the beautiful ocean surf, we drank our beers and ate our store bought roast beef sandwiches. We had every intention of making it back to our pre-selected campsite, but those intentions, I guess, just weren’t good enough because we crashed in the vacant lot just behind where we were sitting.

Before we started traveling together, I used to bike long and doodle little. Richard’s agenda was just the opposite. He doodled long and bicycled in-between doodles. We both understood the situation and therefore it was easy to agree on a new procedure. We made a gentleman’s agreement to go our separate ways. Yesterday was such a good day for both of us that it made it easy to leave on the best of terms. I was the first to say good-bye to Richard who, when I was ready to leave, was still reading his morning newspaper. Not far down the highway from where we camped the road forked, so I took the scenic route. (It wasn’t very scenic, though.) The weather was holding, and Maine was beautiful—a great state to bike.

As it turned out, the time I spent bicycling the scenic route was about the same amount of time that Richard spent doodling in Portland. Just outside of Portland, we ran into each other on the highway. We camped just outside of Brunswick, in the woods, in the rain. In the morning I packed up in a swarm of mosquitoes, chiggers, and eight to ten leeches that I guess were enjoying the feel of my nylon tent. Richard and I agreed to meet again in Bar Harbor. We planned a joint tour of Arcadia National Park. (I wonder if I will ever compromise enough to abandon my solitary nature? A little compromise, I know, would be healthy).

The Harder It Rained The Louder I Sang

Arcadia National Park, Maine

June 17

I’m sitting on top of a 580-foot mountain overlooking some spectacular scenery in Arcadia National Park— forest, coastline, and ocean—all beautiful. Richard and I haven’t hooked up yet. He’ll probably arrive tomorrow. After the weather cleared, I biked 80 or 90 miles, and camped last night at Moose State Park. It was situated on one of the many inlets that peppered the Maine coastline. I made myself scarce around sundown, so as not to attract attention to myself. As I was leaving the area, I met some hitchhikers who were also planning to camp illegally in the park. We talked for a while. The younger one had never hitchhiked long distance before. He exuded the same enthusiasm and excitement for the road that I used to have. Talking with him brought back some fond memories. It’s true; I’m getting older. That night I slept without a tent, under a star filled sky, a beautiful sky. In the morning I biked into Bar Harbor.

Bar Harbor sat at the entrance of Arcadia National Park. It was a neat little town. It had a lot of inviting shops—for tourists. I checked out the price of taking a ferry over to Nova Scotia. For $18.50 I could cut 320 miles off my trip, relax, and enjoy an eight-hour ferry ride. But, if I took the ferry, I would miss some nice scenery. The bike trip would cost me a good $10. or $12., so I really wouldn’t save much money. I decided to take the ferry. I also calculated that I had about 1000 miles of bicycling left. My $120. probably wouldn’t be enough to get me home. Somewhere along the way I would have to send for more money.

After leaving Bar Harbor, I bicycled a beautiful ocean highway. The forests were thick, so finding a place to camp wasn’t easy, but I found a reasonable spot in the pines. There was too much daylight to set up my tent (I was getting tired of playing hide and seek with the authorities), so I hid my gear in the trees and went for a walk. I was close to a hiking trailhead, so I followed it. The climb wasn’t bad, and from the top the view of the harbor was fantastic. In an instant, I realized that there was nothing preventing me from camping up there.

I hoofed it down the mountain and got my bike. After pushing it back up the mountain, I was able to catch the last of the twilight as it followed the sun beneath the horizon. The lights of Bar Harbor were off to my left, and in front of me the lights from the inbound Nova Scotia ferry drifted slowly across the harbor. When the ferry docked, its lights became brilliant. Those were not the only brilliant lights that came out that night. The sky was in full regalia. Looking up into those stars, I felt right at home. I had to leave home to get home and that was what made it all worthwhile! The mountain was obliging in another way also. I was able to get a good picture of the morning sunrise –just before the clouds rolled in bringing with them the promise of more rain.

June 19

The misty, gray, weather had turned to rain. I was not going to let a little wetness get me down, though. I started singing, and the harder it rained, the louder I sang. Luckily it didn’t break loose until mid-afternoon, just as I reached the Seawall campground. I spent the next two hours putting up my tent. This time, however, I put it up underneath the tarp that I bought just after I left Richard. I didn’t know if my idea would work, but I had to try something. The pouring rain made my engineering project difficult, but around 6 p.m. everything came together. I even got a fire started and had a can of hot Beef-a-roni for dinner. After dinner I walked down to the camp store in order to phone home. I needed to find out if Richard was somewhere in the park. I figured we could hook back up with help from our parents. I received sad news. Richard’s younger brother Steve had been killed in a car accident and they had been trying to contact him, but that was a couple days ago. More than likely, he was already on his way home. I felt bad for Richard as I mentally prepared to carry on.

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